Google – Self Driving Cars

Recently I visited the Google headquarters in London for a women in computer science event.  Aside from it mainly being a networking opportunity to meet some Googlers, we were also given insight into some of Google’s new and current projects.  Being the sort of person who gets excited about any new additions to the world of technology, this was easily my highlight of the day.  We were told about various innovations which are currently under development in Silicon Valley, and in particular, one stood out to me, Google’s self-driving cars.

We all know of Google’s cars taking the roads, from Street View, and it now seems that they have had enough of technology and are attempting to break into the automobile industry.  Once a secret project, the cars are now being test driven around Mountain View.  So how does it work?

Well, this video explains everything you need to know:

Chris Urmson, the tech lead behind the project said that aid that the “heart of our system” is a laser range finder mounted on the roof of the car. This generates a detailed 3D map of the environment. The car then combines this with high-resolution maps of the world, producing data models, which allows it to drive itself  , avoiding obstacles and respecting the rules of traffic.

But is it safe? Seven test cars have driven around 140,000 miles without human intervention. One even drove itself down Lombard Street in San Francisco, one of the steepest and curviest streets in California. The only accident, was when a human driver, drove into the back of it, whilst it was stopped at a traffic light.  Sebastian Thrun, the Stanford professor responsible for the project said that, “Driving accidents are the number-one cause of death for young people and almost all of these are due to human error, not machine error. And therefore can be prevented by machines.”   The engineers argue that robot drivers react faster than humans, have 360-degree perception and do not get distracted, sleepy or intoxicated.  This may all well be true, but I do see a serious flaw with this, humans have a tendency to be cautious when they are putting their life into the hands of something that isn’t human.  Yes, auto-pilot might fly all the planes these days, but we still have the pilot incase something goes wrong. So in order to drive and trust this car, you would have to be very comfortable with its technology.

The cars are also Toyota Prius’, this is an elegant move by Google to address the challenges of global warming, by lowering fuel emissions.  In addition, the self-driving aspect  reduces fuel consumption by eliminating heavy-footed stop-and-go drivers.

The project, which involves using artificial intelligence in automobile development, highlights how Google is trying to move away from its search engine image.  Furthermore, it is also a ray of hope in Silicon Valley, which has recently settled comfortably in social networking and digital media.

So now thanks to Google, future generations may never have to go through the pain of driving tests again, and who knows what we may now be able to do behind the wheel. Travel Scrabble anyone?

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